Interview Questions for Hiring College Interns

Offering a college internship program can be a rewarding experience. You'll enjoy the benefits of having extra hands on deck—plus, your employees will stretch their own skill sets by serving as mentors to younger professionals. The key is finding the right intern: one who makes everyone's lives easier instead of negatively affecting your to-do list. It's critical to devote time and care to the interview process just as you would with a full-time employee. Be sure to include these interview questions on your list the next time you hire a college intern.

hiring college interns

Will you earn academic credit for this internship?

Understanding the terms of the internship needs to be priority No. 1 for HR, the hiring manager, and the prospective intern. In January 2018, the U.S. Department of Labor issued new guidelines regarding the "primary beneficiary test" that determines whether an internship is actually a part-time job requiring minimum wage and overtime pay. One of the key tests is whether the student will earn academic credit for the internship experience. Review the guidelines, speak with HR, or seek legal advice to ensure your internship doesn't run afoul of the law. And, if academic credit will be received, make sure you fully understand what the college or university will require of you in order to award credit.

How does this internship fit in with your career goals, and what interests you about our company?

Before selecting a candidate, make sure you’re both on the same page about the potential experience. The internship will be more successful for both parties if you're invested in each other's success. If you're offering an internship as a small-town newspaper reporter, and the student dreams of a big city PR gig, you both need to be clear about what benefits the internship can offer (for example, experience in clear, concise communication and with meeting deadlines, but no contacts in the desired industry).

How did you select your college and your major?

This question isn’t just a good icebreaker for the start of an interview—it can also tell you a lot about the potential intern’s personality. Does the student talk about the size of the college or university? Someone who emphasizes the cozy feel of a small liberal arts college might not enjoy an internship at a Fortune 500 company. Does the student emphasize the academic rating of his or her program at the college? This potential intern might be highly driven and competitive. These are generalizations, but they can offer clues into how an intern might fit into the bigger picture.

What previous volunteer experience or part-time jobs have you had?

By virtue of their age, college students aren't likely to bring much—if any—prior work experience in your industry to the table. Still, their resumes contain clues to how they will perform as an employee. Someone who held down a part-time job at a fast food restaurant while still maintaining an above-average GPA is likely to be good at time management. Officer positions in campus clubs or Greek organizations show ambition and leadership. Plus, extracurricular involvement is an indication of the student's passions, particularly if the organization's mission or the volunteer role relates to your business.

What do you know about our company?

This interview standby is just as applicable to interns as it is to employees. It's a test of preparedness. If the student has a true interest in the internship, he or she will have spent time on your website as well as Googling your company name. If the student seems clueless, he or she might be more interested in having an internship than in an internship at your company.

Good luck as you screen candidates for your internship—if all works out, perhaps you'll be finding a future hire!


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